Pattaya, Thailand and Tamar Center

From the crown of Pattaya Hill, I see the astonishing natural beauty of Pattaya, reclining as it is, in the lap of the Gulf of Siam. Then, descending into the heat of the heart of town, I feel the tension of another reality.

Pattaya Hill

Pattaya is a casualty of the Vietnam war. Before the war, it was a fishing village. During the war, Pattaya was an R&R destination for American soldiers on leave. Today, from the steam of two decades of foreign fuelled sex-trade, Pattaya is the number one sex destination in the world. In this smallish city of less than 100,000 people, there are around 20,000 prostitutes.


We walked “Walking Street” in the early evening, when things were slow. The strip was uncrowded but the girls, and the "lady-boys," (some of Thailand’s most beautiful "women" are boys) were already lining up…dancing, flirting, lounging.

Lucifer's Disco Pattaya siphons off young girls and boys from the villages of North Thailand with promises of wealth. And because parents are often beneficiaries, they show little resistance. While the sexual mores of Thailand are relaxed regarding prostitution, and may contribute to the ballooning trade, money remains the lure. Annually, it’s a 25-30 billion dollar industry. Tamar (sm)

But, as Nella, the Director of Tamar Center says, the “promise” of Pattaya is short lived, and often ends in despair, for children and families. Suicide is not uncommon and HIV/AIDS is still exceedingly high. Pattaya’s Tamar Center is working against the tide. 

Tamar Center is an attractive, multi-function, four-story, building. One half of the ground floor keeps a tidy and trendy coffee shop. The other half holds a hair and beauty salon. Behind these shops you find a small but active bakery. A number of young women, once caught in the sex-trade, apprentice and work here at Tamar.

On the second floor, around stacked tables of mulberry craft paper, more young women, designing, cutting, measuring, and gluing. More young women who have chosen to leave the strip and try out the Tamar Center. They make greeting cards, works of art really. The creation and sale of these cards bring a modicum of income for the girls. More importantly, they find in this family-like community, a sense of self worth and dignity.

Tamar Cards 

In the mean time, while city commissioners are ambitiously trying to sell Pattaya as a resort city for all, there are few initiatives aimed at addressing prostitution.  Project L.I.F.E.’s Tamar Center stands relatively alone in it’s resolve, backed by hope and prayer, to extract as many girls as possible out of a degrading and exploitive trade.

Nelle, Eve and Me(Nelle and Eve, director and manager of the Tamar Center) 


  1. I remember:

    Impoverished familes in the northeast weeping because the development projects we built meant their daughters and sons did not have to leave home

    One wealthy villager exploding upon us that we were meddlers – his wealth came from the payments from his children that he received monthly

    Western sailors lined up waiting their turn

    A German sex tour of late-middle-aged overweight men dressed in loud tropical shirts excitedly getting off their bus

    A hotel burning down in a remote town on Thailand’s Malay peninsula and the ‘discovery’ of over 40 girls chained to their beds in the rubble…’trainees’

    I don’t think I ever really knew what despair meant before all that…

  2. I spent some time visiting Tamar Centre while visiting my son and family who live in Thailand and was so impressed with the efforts there. The new building is great , although I am heavy and the stairs were a task for me.

    I voluntarily taught two classes to the girls and some staff ( 16 people in all) who seemed to enjoy them. We painted greeting cards – a different way ( more Canadian way) of making greeting cards than the traditional Thai way. I wasn’t there long enough to make cards the Thai way but would have loved to learn. The staff were friendly and the girls there were great. The year before I attended the coffee shop and had my hair cut as well.. I don’t know if anyone painted any more cards or not, but we had fun all in all, I wish we could do more to help, but it seems like it is just too monumental a task.

    Thank you ( Nancy) for the opportunity to help and for the selfish gratitude I got while doing so. Thanks to the lady who interpreted while I taught and to all the ladies . Thank you THIP for the book you made me I am using it this year to journal our trip to Thailand once more. We will be there three months this time, my sons family lives further North.

    Painting Mamma

  3. I wish The Tamar Centre the very best with the work it is doing with ageing prostitutes, but please, get back to reality. It is all about money and economics. Give opportunities for decent employment with satisfactory wages in Issan then perhaps you might dent the Pattaya “prositutute” population, but until you do that, there will always be young Thai girls looking to meet a man who will care and provide for them and their family. It isn’t rocket science, in fact it is blindingly obvious.

  4. I really enjoyed your article on the Tamar Centre!I live and work in BKK with a YWAM project and am doing research and found your page. Thank you–well done!

    (I wanted to let you know, too, that there are inappropriate ads on your page saying “ads by Google” just after your list of advocating teams. The Ads are referring people to Thai networking sites that are not edifying…) Thought you may want to know…

    Bless you!

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